Williams v. Lee,
358 U.S. 217 (1959)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Williams v. Lee, 358 U.S. 217 (1959)

Williams v. Lee

No. 39

Argued November 20, 1958

Decided January 12, 1959

358 U.S. 217


Respondent, who is not an Indian, operates a general store in Arizona on the Navajo Indian Reservation under a license required by federal statute. He brought this action in an Arizona state court against petitioners, a Navajo Indian and his wife who live on the Reservation, to collect for goods sold to them there on credit. They moved to dismiss on the ground that jurisdiction lay in the tribal court, rather than in the state court.

Held: The motion should have been granted, since the exercise of state jurisdiction in this case would undermine the authority of the tribal courts over Reservation affairs, and hence would infringe on the right of the Indians to govern themselves, which right was recognized by Congress in the Treaty of 1868 with the Navajos, and has never been taken away. Pp. 358 U. S. 217-223.

83 Ariz. 241, 319 P.2d 998, reversed.

Primary Holding

The jurisdiction of state courts does not extend to Indian reservations unless Congress specifically permits.

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